Nov 10, 2008

Business - India;PVR & DTH

Ashish Sinha

DTH operators introduce personal video recorders which allow viewers to rewind or record a programme while watching another.

Competition in the rapidly-growing seven-million direct-to-home (DTH) market is all set to take a new turn. Almost all the private DTH operators have decided to come out with personal video recorders (PVRs) which enable viewers to record a programme while watching another.

First off the block has been Tata Sky, which recently launched Tata Sky Plus priced at about Rs 10,000 per connection, complete with an ad campaign featuring Aamir Khan and Gul Panag.

Dish TV, the largest player in the DTH market, is conducting field trials of its own PVR boxes (also known as digital video recorders or DVRs). Others like Airtel, Sun Direct and Reliance Big TV may soon launch their own PVRs.

The PVR box is an upgraded version of the existing DTH set-top box with a built-in storage capacity that allows the consumers to record, pause or replay live television. All DTH players are likely to offer boxes that can record up to 140 hours of television shows.

This means that if you are watching a live cricket match then the PVR can simultaneously record your favourite movie playing on another channel. Also, while watching the cricket match, if a phone call comes, then all you need to do is press the 'pause' button on the remote control and the live match is paused. You can resume the match from where you left, after the call is over.

"Actually, the PVR starts recording the match from the point it was paused and when you push the 'play' button, the match starts from exactly the point where it was paused giving you a sense of continuity," an executive of Tata Sky Plus explained at the time of its commercial launch here.

According to Tata Sky CEO and Managing Director Vikram Kaushik, the Tata Sky Plus PVR service is doing "extremely well".

The PVR has been a big success in the developed market of the US, the UK and Europe. A recent study by NDS, the global digital pay and interactive TV technology provider, reveals that the PVR is considered to be the second most indispensable item of household technology by those who have access to it after the ubiquitous mobile phone.

The vast majority of people with access to a DVR internationally say that they could not live without it. "The US has the highest proportion of DVR users who find it indispensible (81 per cent), followed closely by the UK (78 per cent), Australia (75 per cent) and Italy (73 per cent)," says the NDS study.

The only issue in India at the moment could be its price. "It's expensive for sure but it’s for those who want it by choice. It’s for those consumers who are always short on time and often tend to miss their favourite movies, serials and much more," says Kaushik. Tata Sky Plus is priced almost four times the price of its normal DTH service Tata Sky. Experts say that even Dish TV and others are likely to price their PVR boxes at about the same price.

However, industry experts are of the view that as the DTH market is now buzzing with six DTH operators (including DD Direct Plus of Doordarshan), PVR is being offered as a key differentiator by the two well-entrenched DTH operators — Dish TV and Tata Sky.

Dish TV says that there is a huge need gap in the digital recorder space for television and that is why PVR will work. "Through the Dish TV PVR, we will introduce an offering called the Video-on-Demand service. Consumers will be able to download movies on their Dish TV PVR boxes and watch them as many times as they want possibly at a very nominal price," says Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV. Dish TV is likely to roll out its DVR boxes around Christmas, sources said.

However, the third-largest DTH player in the country, Sun Direct, which has over 1.5 million subscribers mainly in the southern states, says that PVR boxes will make sense to upwardly mobile consumers, while the basic DTH service will continue to dominate the DTH space. "Of course, there is a market for PVR too and we will also launch it but our main focus is on expanding our DTH footprint on the national level," Tony D’Silva, COO, Sun Direct told Business Standard recently.

Reliance ADA group's Big TV DTH service that recently said that it acquired over half-a-million subscribers plans to launch its own DVRs by the year end. According to sources, the company has ordered 250,000 PVR-enabled set-top boxes from Korean manufacturers, including Hyundai.

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